Is Iraq War Unavoidable

Updated: Jan 29 2003, 05:30am hrs
The war clouds over Iraq are darkening. The anti-war lobbies have moved into top gear. Countries and their leaders are taking positions for or against Bush war on Iraq.

Ostensibly, the legal-cum-technical issue on which the proponents and opponents of war are divided is the destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the UN inspections under the latest Security Council Resolution on the subject, UNSCR 1441. But this has been intricately intertwined with other weighty considerations that would affect one part or the other of the larger international community. Unilateralism or multilateralism in ordering the structure of international peace and security is one such issue.

The irony is that those who are opposed to war against Saddam are opposed only to Americas unilateral war not to a UN approved war! They have all indicated, including India, that they will abide by any UN Security council resolution mandating war.

The Iraq war issue is further complicated by political, oil, economic and security interests of China, Russia, France, Germany, Arab oil producing countries, Gulf monarchies by the war on terrorism and, above all, by the Palestinian issue.

As someone directly involved with Iraq issues in 1998-2000, who has lived in Iraq during this period, for me, the abiding tragedy in all this war talk is the complete absence of any mention of the central issue, namely, the people of Iraq, their misery and causes of their misery.

For close to 12 years, the people of Iraq have suffered from the tyranny of Saddam regime on the one hand and the most comprehensively punishing sanctions regime ever imposed in the UN history, on the other.

Their misery continues, the causes of the misery remain untouched, while columns are written and speeches are made about war and diplomacy, oil and Islam, democracy and dictatorship, nuclear and chemical weapons and interference in internal affairs.

If we were to bring the issue back into focus, namely, the 22 million people of Iraq, the lifting of UN sanctions, the return of Iraq into the mainstream of international life as a democratic, peaceful, disarmed nation, we might well succeed in preventing war.

The economic health of the world is not particularly sound. There is recession and stagnation in a number of economies around the world. The Middle East and South Asia are only just recovering from the effects of downturn in US and European economies. War against Iraq will have very adverse effect on the region around Iraq and India will not be spared. The most direct effect of the war will be on oil supplies and prices. India, which is dependent heavily on Gulf originating oil supplies, will see rising energy costs and possible dislocation of supplies, with consequent impact on manufacturing and service industries. We will analyse the different scenarios on oil prices and supplies depending on the duration and length of the war later. For the present, I believe that doing everything diplomatically necessary to avoid war on Iraq has to be directly related to the issues which the American Administration had advanced as sufficient reasons for an attack on Iraq.

Let us recall that UN sanctions were imposed to force Iraq to disarm it of its weapons of mass destruction. Foolproof evidence is required to conclude that the WMD disarmament has taken place before sanctions can be lifted. But this cannot be done without complete co-operation of the Saddam Hussein Government. The last 12 years have demonstrated that co-operation, transparency and openness has been more than lacking from Saddams Government, just as UNSCOM inspection teams have been less than honest and more than biased in carrying out their mandated tasks in the past. Having lived in Baghdad during the months before American bombing of Iraq in December 1998, and been deeply involved on behalf of the United Nations in failed efforts to stop the bombings and start a collaborative comprehensive review of the sanctions in the Security Council, I have at least a modicum of sympathy for President Bushs remark that what is happening with current UN inspections on Iraq is a re-run of a bad movie!

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the past, the reality is that the question of lifting of sanctions, destruction of weapons of mass destruction disarmament and the change in Saddam regime are all interconnected. Until the Saddam regime goes, since it will never reform, and a people responsive government comes to power in Baghdad, the international community will not lift sanctions and the misery of the people of Iraq will prolong. The Bush Administration has been brutally honest in making it clear that without a regime change, there will be no lifting of sanctions, no end to terrorism, no security of oil supplies and no peace in the Middle East. The elimination of Saddam regime is therefore an inevitable necessity for removal of sanctions on Iraqi people.

It is not that those opposed to war on Iraq do not understand the reality. They must know that war will not be avoided by talking of principles, multilateralism, non-interference and so on. Unfortunately, China, Russia, France, Turnkey, Arab countries and others opposed to war have failed to use the politico-diplomatic capital which they have gained with the Baghdad Government as a result of opposition to US war plans, to promote a peaceful change in the regime in Baghdad. It is futile to continue to stand on the principle that regime change is an internal matter of the people of Iraq! The Iraqi people, debilitated physically, psychologically, socially and economically, have no say in regime formations in Saddams dictatorship and there is no point pretending otherwise. The UN sanctions, oil-for-food programme and UN arms inspections are all examples of interference in Iraqs internal affairs. Diplomatically enforced regime changes are not unusual in international relations and the examples of the President of Uganda, the Shah of Iran and the former dictator of Haiti immediately come to mind. It is true that there were not war crimes or human rights tribunals and the International Criminal Court did not exist at that time. But international ingenuity and diplomatic finesse are required to skirt around these institutions of importance in arranging a facesaving exit for Saddam Hussein out of Iraq in order to save the Iraqi people, the people of the region around him and the international community from a potentially disastrous war in which the use of weapons of mass destruction cannot be ruled out with certainty. It will require a safe heaven for Saddam in a friendly country, with credible guarantees from all major powers including USA to grant immunity from prosecution to Saddam.

Knowing the way the minds of the Saddam group works it is certain that the loud and persistent opposition of friends and allies of USA in Europe and Arab countries to a possible war on Iraq will be misinterpreted by them as support for Saddam Husseins policies. It is essential that these countries make it clear to Saddam that while they oppose war for a number of good reasons, that does not include approval of Saddam regime or policies, that they equally disapprove of his dictatorship and his regimes repressive policies, that he has to go voluntarily in the interest of his own country and people, if he does not do so, war will be unavoidable.

The question posed to me wherever I go, is, will there be a war over Iraq My answer is that if ending the misery of the people of Iraq and lifting sanctions against them is our priority, then a regime change is necessary, and even inevitable. It is high time that those countries who are opposing American plans for war, move the rhetoric away from UN principles and anti-Americanism to the question of lifting of sanctions against the Iraqi people, and invest their consideration political and economic clout with Iraq Government to reach a diplomatic solution. Either those countries which are opposed to war and have political influence in Iraq bring this about peacefully through diplomatic pressure or the USA and UK will do so by force. War will then be inevitable.